Vincent van Gogh in Antwerp

Vincent van Gogh arrived in Antwerp on 24 November 1885 from Nuenen in the hope of taking lessons at the art academy and selling his art.

In a letter to his brother Theo, he had said that he wanted to go to this city. He rented a room from the Dutch couple Willem Henricus Brandel and his wife Anna Wilhelmina Huberta on the second floor of their house in the Lange Beeldekenstraat 224.

Vincent van Gogh 

He enjoyed the first few weeks in Antwerp  and Vincent often wrote to Theo how happy he was with his choice of the city. Vincent loved discovering the city: walking along the quays, visiting different churches and going to the museums. Vincent also visited various art dealers in the hope of being able to sell his work. But is artwork did not bring the desired sales and Vincent had to constantly beg Theo to send him money in order to survive.

In January 1886 Vincent enrolled in a drawing course on antique sculpture at the Antwerp art academy. There he also followed a painting course with Charles Verlat for a short time. In addition, he enrolled in two evening classes.

In the meantime, Vincent had all kinds of problems with his teeth, probably caused by his unhealthy lifestyle; Vincent ate poorly, often only lived on water and bread and smoked a lot of pipe. He was struck by the syphilis disease and spent some time in the Stuivenberg Hospital. 

The lessons at the academy were supposed to end at the end of March 1886, but Vincent did not stay that long. He left Antwerp on 28 February to further develop as an artist in Paris, hoping for a place in the studio of artist Fernand Cormon.  In Paris he could live with his brother Theo.

Achterkant oude huizen

During his presence in Antwerp, Van Gogh painted around 35 canvases, including one with the back of the houses in Korte Van Bloerstraat, a view from his small room. This painting was appropriately named "Backside of old houses", and is his best-known work from that period. Seven paintings and several drawings from his period in Antwerp have been preserved.

The story behind the Antwerpse handjes

The Antwerpse Handjes is a cookie in the shape of a hand that has a reference to the legend of Brabo and giant Antigoon, their story was the foundation of the city. But what most people don't know is that the sweet delicacy originally came out of the oven in a small bakery of a Dutch-Jewish baker who owned a bakery in Antwerp.

It all began in 1934 in the Provinciestraat behind the Antwerp train station. Jos Hakker made his dough from butter, sugar, eggs, flour and shaved almonds. But what was more special is that he baked his recipe on a baking mold in the shape of little hands.

He actually made his dessert cookie to compete in a competition of the Royal Association of Master Pastry Makers of Antwerp. They wanted an original culinary specialty that could represent the city of Antwerp. Jos Hakker came up with the winning design and recipe. The shape, composition and packaging are now, through patent protection, the property of the Belgian union for bread, pastry, chocolate and ice cream. The cookies became very popular in no time.

Picture by Harry Fabel

During the Second World War however, Jos Hakker was deported by the Nazis to the Dossin barracks in Mechelen, where he later would be transferred to  the Auschwitz Concentration camps. But luckily he managed to escape, together with 66 others. He joined the Li├Ęge resistance were he wrote articles for the secret press. Those articles were later bundled in a book that appeared in French, English and Dutch. Later, after the War he returned to Antwerp and started his bakery again from scratch.

Picture by Pixabay
As a reminder to his remarkably story and the atrocities of the Second World War his granddaughter Joyce Hakker gave the original baking mold and the boxes in which they were sold to the Dossin barracks museum. And Jos Hakker, the inventor of the Antwerpse Handjes will also be remembered by the city of Antwerp because his little old bakery received a memorial plaque on the facade. The bakery however is no longer there.